National Grammar Schools Association
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Comprehensives closing the gap on selective grammar schools

16th August 2002 - The Independent

By Richard Gardner, Education Editor

The GAP between selective state schools comprehensives is narrowing, according to this year’s A-level performance table compiled by The Independent.

The country’s highest scoring comprehensive sent a clear message to the Government yesterday, saying the results showed all-in schools were “getting it right”.

The 1,200-pupil Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, topped the Independent league table for comprehensive schools, recording a points score of 396 marks per pupil. That is the equivalent of at least three A grades per pupil and means its results are better than nearly 130 of the country’s selective grammar schools.

The name “grammar” in the school’s title dates back to when it was founded in 1548. It became fully comprehensive in 1971.

The success of Queen Elizabeth’s forms part of a trend in this year’s Independent table that shows non-selective schools narrowing the gap with grammar school.
Thirty of the country’s comprehensive schools scored enough points to have warranted a place among the leading 100 grammar schools.

Some of the top-performing non-selective schools, such as St Martin’s in Brentwood, Essex, and Watford Grammar School for Boys in Hertfordshire, are among those schools given specialist status by the Government.

Dr Roger Wilkes, headmaster of Queen Elizabeth’s, said his school was a comprehensive “with a grammar school ethos. We still have uniforms, we still have house colours and I prefer to be known as ‘headmaster’,” he added.

“I think we’d have had a record year even without the switch to the new system [of A and AS-levels].

“Sometimes everything falls together. They are a great bunch of hard-working pupils. They’ve had some excellent teaching. Seven of them are going to Oxford or Cambridge and that’s not bad for a state school.”

Dr Wilkes, who has been headmaster for eight years, said he preferred to remain in his school rather than take on the role of a “super-head”, which would mean him being out of school explaining the success of Queen Elizabeth’s to others. He paid special tribute to his head of sixth form, Paul Benn, for the school’s success.

“I wanted to bring grammar school standards here and I think the standards are far and away better than the boys’ grammar school that I attended as a pupil.

“It shows we’ve got it right,” he added.

The success for comprehensives comes as Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, had called for more diversity and choice to replace the existing comprehensive system, which is 35 years old. Ms Morris’s claim that there were some comprehensive schools she “would not touch with a bargepole” has been a sore point for many teachers’ leaders.

Girls-only schools dominate the league table. This year 21.9 per cent of A-levels taken by girls were awarded A grades, compared with 19.3 taken by boys. Last year the figures were 19 percent and 18.2 per cent respectively. Girls also scored higher marks than boys in almost every subject, including for the first time in English.

The table shows Colchester County High School for Girls in Essex, a grammar school, to be the top-performing girls’ school. Also in the top 10 are Chelmsford County High School for girls, King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and Wolverhampton Girls High School